Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Chris Dillow — Against high CEO pay

Imagine we lived in a feudal society in which lords exploited peasants. A defender of the system might argue that wealthy lords perform a useful service; they protect their peasants from invasion and theft thus giving them security and a little prosperity. And competition between lords should improve these services; bad lords will find their lands and peasants seized by better lords who become wealthier as a result.

Such an argument would, however, miss the point. The case against feudalism is that the system as a whole is unjust and inefficient. The fact that good lords provide services and are richer than bad ones is quite compatible with this.
This analogy came to mind whilst reading Ben Ramanauskas’s defence of high CEO pay. The fact that good CEOs make a positive difference to a company does not in itself justify a system in which CEOs in aggregate – many of whom are far from good – get fortunes.
Two big facts suggest that such a system might well be inefficient....
The fundamental principle is the same in feudalism and capitalism. Both are based on rent extraction.
Unsurprisingly, then, there is little clear link between CEO pay (pdf) and corporate performance. It might be that high pay is better explained by rent-seeking than as a reward for maximizing shareholder value - though as it's almost impossible to know in most cases what constitutes maximal value, we might never know for sure.

In fact, my analogy with feudal lords is too generous to CEOs. Whereas (arguendo) a bad lord would pay for his incompetence perhaps with his life, bad CEOs walk away with fat pay cheques.
When so-called free marketeers try to defend bosses’ pay, they do the cause of free markets a huge dis-service by encouraging people to equate free markets with what is in effect a rigged system whereby bosses enrich themselves with no obvious benefit to the rest of us.
To the degree that perfect competition doesn't exist, owing to asymmetries, then rent-seeking takes over.  It's the "rational" thing to do for "utility maximizing agents."

Stumbling and Mumbling
Against high CEO pay
Chris Dillow | Investors Chronicle

1 comment:

Kaivey said...

Bad CEO's get golden handshakes and terrific pensions.

Like sending little boys up chimneys, the neoliberals and the libertarians could make an argument for anything.